A 'populist' Senate candidate wants to ban members of Congress from holding and trading stocks — and throw them in jail if they don't comply

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Democratic Missouri Senate candidate Lucas Kunce wants to ban members of congress from trading stocks.

  • "The rules are harsher for you, me, and Martha Stewart... than they are for the Speaker of the House," he says.

  • Kunce spoke with Insider about why he believes the issue can help him win votes in deep-red Missouri.

When Lucas Kunce heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rejection of a proposed ban on members of Congress and their spouses from trading stocks, he was incensed.

"That person is supposed to represent all of us. They're supposed to take care of us. They're supposed to legislate for America," Kunce told Insider in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "They're supposed to make things better for the everyday American, and instead, they're legislating for their stock portfolio."

In a recent appearance on MSNBC, he compared Pelosi's response to Insider's question about the issue — "we have a free-market economy," she said last week — to the infamous "let them eat cake" remark misattributed to French monarch Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution.

Kunce, like the Speaker of the House, is a Democrat.

But unlike Pelosi, the former Marine officer and Pentagon official prefers to call himself a "populist" and hopes to win a Senate election next year in Missouri, a state where former President Donald Trump prevailed by over 15 points in 2020.

"Populism is empowering normal everyday people against elites and trying to change a system that's rigged," he said. "Just because some fakers have come in and stolen the label, divided everyday people, and used them to get power for themselves — rather than power for all of us — doesn't mean that I'm going to give up on that idea."

Given the political landscape of Missouri, Kunce is not especially fond of discussing party labels. "It's not a left-right campaign, it's a top-bottom campaign," he says.

But he does point to the recent statewide Democratic campaigns of former Secretary of State Jason Kander in 2016 and State Auditor Nicole Galloway in 2018 as evidence that he can win. "People in Missouri, they just want you to show them something real," said Kunce.

Fresh off a stint at the American Economic Liberties Project — an antitrust nonprofit that seeks to "challenge monopolies' dominance over markets and society" — Kunce is running a Senate campaign centered on addressing monopoly power, lowering the costs of prescription drugs, getting tough on China, and passing a "Marshall Plan for the Midwest" designed to mirror nation-building efforts in the post-war landscapes of Iraq, Afghanistan, and late-1940s Europe.

He also touts a number of ethics reforms, including the abolition of corporate PACs, a ban on family members of senators and representatives from working as lobbyists, and of course, forbidding members of Congress and their spouses from owning stocks.

"This is insider trading," he said. "They have access to information that other people just don't have. I mean, this is why everybody hates Congress, right?"

Insider's "Conflicted Congress" investigation found that 52 members of Congress (and counting) and nearly 200 senior congressional staffers have violated the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK) Act, a bill that banned insider training and requires disclosures of stock transactions within 45 days.

'No one believes anything anymore'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended congressional stock-trading when asked by Insider last week. “We are a free-market economy. They should be able to participate in that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended congressional stock-trading when asked by Insider last week. “We are a free-market economy. They should be able to participate in that.”Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Kunce says that banning congressional stock trading "goes right to the heart of" his campaign message. "They make decisions for their campaign funders, for their stock portfolios, and they will literally strip our communities from parts in order to do it," he says, referencing political contributions and stock investments in the same breath. Kunce also argued that congressmembers' stock portfolios represented a key point of leverage for companies over Congress.

"You've got people connected with defense contractors and defense lobbyists, funding campaigns and portfolios," said Kunce, who has also written about the perils of monopoly power in the national security space. "One of the ways they control the markets is by controlling the politicians."

He also says that the current disclosure-focused approach to this ethics issue is insufficient, referencing an Insider article that called the disclosure-focused STOCK Act "toothless."

Members of Congress, Kunce says, should be jailed if they're found to be in violation of the act.

"If you had information like that, and you did what these members of Congress are doing, you would end up in jail," he said. "The rules are harsher for you, me, and Martha Stewart — that's the one that everybody knows, right? — than they are for the Speaker of the House."

"If there's no teeth to it, then people can just ignore it," he declares. "This isn't like a complicated thing, right?"

And while some members of Congress and candidates alike have proposed requiring the use of blind trusts — an account where independent financial experts manage assets instead of the owner — as a solution to the problem, Kunce says they're merely a "political ploy."

"Okay, so if I have a privately held coal company, when that goes into blind trust, I'm going to forget that I have that?" he asked, making a clear reference to a recent Washington Post investigation of Sen. Joe Manchin's blind trust. "I'm just gonna develop amnesia?"

He ultimately condemned blind trusts as a "dog and pony show solution just like the STOCK Act" while expressing an openness to other proposals floated by House Democrats. "Yeah, that seems fine," Kunce said when asked about members investing in index funds.

Beyond individual conflicts of interests arising from member's stock holdings, Kunce says the practice is simply bad for American institutions.

"There's this very deep lack of trust in our systems, in our institutions, because they've had such deep institutional and systematic dishonesty for so long," he said. "No one believes anything anymore."

A tough path to the Senate

Former Governor Eric Greitens of Missouri near the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO on May 17, 2018.
Former Governor Eric Greitens of Missouri near the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO on May 17, 2018.AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

It is at this point that Kunce turns his fire upon Missouri Republicans, including one of his potential opponents.

A lack of trust in institutions "lets people like Josh Hawley or Eric Greitens come in and just say whatever they want, peddle whatever bullshit they've got," he said, referring to the state's junior senior and former governor, who's now a top contender for the Republican nomination for US Senate.

Polling released by National Journal and conducted this month by a pro-Greitens super PAC found that the former governor bests his GOP primary foes in favorability rating among Republican voters.

The same poll also found that Greitens leads Kunce by a 34-25 margin, though with 40% of voters remaining undecided.

Kunce has explicitly compared Greitens to former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, the 2012 Republican Senate nominee whose "legitimate rape" comments sunk his campaign against former Sen. Claire McCaskill. And Greitens, in addition to the infamous "revenge porn" scandal that ended his governorship, has been hit with 2 separate ethics complaints in recent months accusing him of illegally spending $100,000 on his Senate campaign.

"I mean, I'm not surprised," Kunce says of the ethics complaints. He added that some Greitens' backers "see his lack of morals and his unethical behavior as a feature rather than as a bug."

Reached for comment, Greitens campaign manager Dylan Johnson said the former governor was "the only America First candidate in this race" and that Kunce "should stop worrying about other campaigns and focus on getting his own off of life support."

But before Kunce can take on Greitens — whose potential general election candidacy is reportedly feared by top Republicans and former state party chairs alike — he must prevail over his several primary opponents, including former state Sen. Scott Sifton. According to recent reports, he's begun to lead the pack in fundraising.

"Missourians want to fundamentally change who has power in the country," Kunce said, touting recent ballot measures where Missourians have chosen to increase the minimum wage, legalize medical marijuana, expand Medicaid, and blocked a right-to-work law.

"They want a good candidate who will fight for them, and that's what I'm offering."

Read the original article on Business Insider